Do government flexible work plans go far enough for dads?

23 September 2021

The government’s new proposals around flexible working, outlined today – especially the plan to give people the right to request flexible working from day one in a job – are a step in the right direction.

They include making the right to request flexible working a day 1 right – currently employees need to have worked for an organisation for 26 weeks before being able to make such a request; and shortening the period employers have to respond to flexible working requests.

But the right to request flexible working is not the same as the right to work flexibly. Many flexible working requests are refused, often for reasons that are unclear or rely on the argument that flexible hours can’t be justified for ‘business reasons’. We also know that fathers are less likely to request flexible working arrangements – and, if they do, are more likely to have their requests refused.

We, and a wide range of other organisations interested in ‘making work work’ for parents (and other caregivers), believe the government should go further and make flexible working the default position – unless employers can demonstrate, and communicate clearly in job adverts – why that’s not possible in their particular business or field of activity.

Until that happens, the onus will continue to be on parents themselves to ask for patterns of work that enable them to combine their professional and personal responsibilities. Which in many workplaces means putting your neck on the line and potentially appearing to be less ‘committed’ to your job.

Because of where we are on the journey towards gender equality, more mothers than fathers tend to take that step – not just because mothers tend to do more of the caregiving at home, but also because fathers are more likely to work longer hours and be the higher earners, so they and their children’s mothers can’t afford them to take the same risks with their careers.

Part of the problem is that flexible working is so often framed as a mothers-only issue – when in fact many dads, especially those with very young or primary school-age children, would love to work more flexibly too. In our recent Lockdown Fathers study, 76% of partnered fathers who were at home full-time during the first (spring 2020) lockdown said they wanted to work more flexibly in future.

What can you do?

Read and respond to the government’s proposals in full here.

Please also contribute to this TUC survey to make your voice count – and share it via social media using the hashtags #timewithdad and #flexibleworking.

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